The Pressures Behind Burnout

Part 1 of our 4-part Burnout Series

Burnout, which is a medically diagnosable condition, has reached record-breaking levels, impacting workers at every level of organizations.

It’s easy to think this is an inevitable outcome, but in reality, burnout can be prevented, helping people avoid a whole host of symptoms – from sleep disruptions to physical health declines.

In order to prevent burnout, we first have to learn where it comes from.  

With most workers spending one-third of their life, or around 90,000 hours at work, it’s no surprise that work can be a big source of stress and can ultimately lead to burnout.

However, not all burnout is driven by work.  Often stresses that lead to burnout can stem from issues in one’s personal life or a lack of self-care.  In many cases, the feeling that work needs to come first can exacerbate these personal stressors, but may not always be the root or only cause of burnout.

On top of this, pressures both inside and outside the workplace further push us toward a state of burnout.

Social Conditioning:  We’ve all been socially conditioned to believe that giving up our life for a cause is a noble thing.  In some cases it can be noble, but in many cases, we take this to an extreme, even when it’s detrimental to our own well-being.  The workplace is a great example of this – when we see people being praised for working late, we think that’s the way to get ahead and the pressure to sacrifice increases until we actually start to feel guilty for living our lives.

Unrealistic Norms Amplified:  Unfortunately, this all gets amplified through social media where we’re told that we can have it, do it all and be it all.  We end up adopting standards that aren’t even our own and pushing ourselves to fulfill them, feeling bad when we don’t live up to perfection.

New Corporate Expectations:  We’re living in a time when many corporate cultures center around people being all in at all times.  This stems from the enormous pressure that is pushed on companies to grow at all costs.

Shift in Workplace Mentality:  This idea of putting profits above people and always prioritizing the needs of investors was made popular by Jack Welch, the infamous CEO of GE who was known for cutting costs and benefits in exchange for higher share prices. While his method worked in the short-term, in the end GE ended up having to break up its businesses just to survive.  But his legacy and his management style continues to live on.

When you combine the individual expectations to do-it-all with the organizational pressures to grow at any cost, the workplace has turned into an environment of disengagement and toxicity 

with distrust and resentment, all of which contributes to burnout.

This phenomenon has a name – it’s called hustle culture. It’s the belief that obsession will lead to success and more often than not, here in our society, that obsession is work. 

Hustling – something that used to be seen as negative is now glorified and idolized in Corporate America.  It’s become our normal and it’s the primary reason workers are burning out and leaving their jobs.

Note:  This is the first in a four-part series on burnout.  Tune in next week as we explore the ways workers and organizations have explored to overcome hustle culture and burnout.  

To learn more about burnout and our research around it, check out our recent webinar, or download the full report for yourself.